For a long time, we've been able to pride ourselves on the fact that we're smarter than our primitive ancestors. Sure, they made fire and the wheel and invented language, or whatever, but we brought technology.
Turns out a lot of our most technologically sophisticated inventions were already invented, which does nothing but remind us how useless we are.
Believed to have been invented in...In 2001, if you are a die hard Mac fan. Or 1997, if you are aware cheaper MP3 players existed before Steve Jobs figured out people would pay twice as much to hear their pirated songs on the bus if the MP3 player looked like the bastard son of Eve from Wall-E and a pocket calculator.
Actually Invented in...
In 1979, Kane Kramer and his friend, James Campbell, came up with the idea of a portable music player the size of a cigarette box. The music player baptized as the IXI System stored music digitally in a chip and had a display screen and buttons to navigate it.
They even built five prototypes they showed potential investors. Wow! That sounds amazing! So they sold it, became gazillionaires and everybody listened to ABBA songs they downloaded with their Ataris, right? Well, no, obviously not.
The IXI had one big problem: It only had enough memory for three and a half minutes of music, which does screw you up if you had your heart set on carrying "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" anywhere you went. And how were you supposed to get your music files back in the decades before Napster?
Since almost nobody had computers in those days, Kramer suggested putting terminals in music stores, connected via telephone with a central music server so users could buy and download their music at the store. Keep in mind we're talking about 1979 phone modems, which means Kramer's idea also involved people bringing their own tent and enough food for camping for two months while they downloaded "Funky Town."
Believed to have been invented in...
Late 19th century or early 20th century, or whatever the hell that World of Motion ride at EPCOT said.
Actually Invented in...
A French inventor named Nicolas Joseph Cugnot built one, back before the American Revolution.
Back when most people were blaming their diseases on fairies and the evil eye, Cugnot had one great idea: a horse carriage minus the stupid, smelly horse. In 1769, he finally finished his horseless carriage; a steam-engine-powered automobile that looked like a steampunk Big Wheel.
It could carry four tons while traveling at the break-neck speed of two and a half miles per hour (people had really weak necks in those days).
Why did we never read about Napoleon's mechanized, steam-powered army trampling England under their godless robotic wheels? Well, the inventions had problems. While testing his vehicle in 1771, Cugnot lost control and discovered the unique sensation we've come to know as "crashing into a brick wall." You might think that you could laugh off such a crash at five miles an hour, but try it while sitting in one of these bastards.
Despite being an undeniably revolutionary invention, it was still slow, heavy and horrible to drive. Cugnot ran out of money to improve his invention, and while the French government was interested in continuing with the idea, a little uprising of the people called the French Revolution put an end to that.
Cugnot escaped to Belgium where he lived in poverty. Fun fact: There were about 600-700 million people on earth when Cugnot was born. That's also how many cars there are now.